It’s hard to imagine that taxes in New York could actually be higher than they are now. A lot higher.
Were it not for the annual cap on local property tax levies, New York property owners would have paid an extra $64 billion in property taxes over the past six years.
The tax cap works, and it needs to be made permanent. Doing so will take an act of the new state Legislature, which should quickly put the issue to rest as one of the first pieces of legislation it passes next year.
The law limits the annual growth in total property-tax levies to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, in all school districts, counties, municipalities and special districts in the state.
The cap can be overridden by a vote of 60 percent of the members of non-school government bodies. In school districts, an override must be approved by a 60 percent super-majority of district voters on the annual school budget.
Due to the logic of our state government, the state tax cap is actually part of legislation regulating rents in New York City. That rent law expires next year, and with it, the tax cap the year after.
Allowing the cap to expire would be a tragedy for New York taxpayers. So would loosening the rules on overriding the cap, as some lawmakers have proposed in response to complaints from government boards.
Over the last five years, only 22 percent of the state’s city governments and 18 percent of counties have exceeded the cap. Only 2 percent of school districts — which were once notorious for raising taxes five, six or even 10-plus percent each year — have overridden the cap.
One bill (A3799/S1707) would make the tax cap an even 2 percent a year.
Right now, with it tied to the rate of inflation, the cap is often less than 2 percent. That forces government bodies to be even tighter with their spending.
A similar bill (A5639) would eliminate any connection between the tax cap and the consumer price index and eliminate the requirement that a super-majority of school voters approve an override.
Another bill (A3402) would take the power of tax-cap overrides out of the hands of school district voters completely and allow a super-majority vote of school board members to override the cap.
Who’s most likely to approve an override of the tax cap — school board members under pressure to support more programs and hirings, or the taxpayers who would have to pay for the extra spending?
Any such measures to soften the restrictions on overriding the cap would open the door to a return to excessive pre-cap tax increases. And that would defeat the purpose of the whole thing.
Given the opportunity to raise taxes, government bodies in New York have demonstrated they have no self-control.
A permanent tax cap has proven to be the best way — and so far the only way — to keep property taxes in check.